Panic Attacks: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Panic attacks are one of the most common and debilitating forms of anxiety. They are not dangerous in themselves but can lead to other health problems if left untreated. In this article we will discuss what causes them, their symptoms and how to get rid of them for good!
Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder.
Although panic attacks themselves are not life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. Treatment can be very effective especially if applied early on.
Table of Contents
- What is a panic attack?
- What are the causes for panic attacks?
- What are the symptoms of a panic attack?
- What triggers a panic attack?
- What does a panic attack feel like?
- What to do when you have a panic attack?
- What to do when you have a panic attack at night
- What to do when you have a panic attack during the day
- What to do when a child has a panic attack
- Is there a treatment for panic attacks?
- How can you be free of panic attacks?
- When you should you see a doctor if you have panic attacks?
- Conclusions and final thoughts
When an unexpected panic attack occurs, it is never a good time. A person may suddenly feel anxious without any warning signs or triggers.
Panic attacks can happen to anyone and often times people don’t know what caused them in the first place but if you have more than one then this could be a sign that something else might be going
The DSM-5 does not recognize anxiety disorders specifically. However it defines as Anxiety Disorders, many common psychiatric illnesses that cause feelings of extreme distress due to excessive worries about things happening now or in the future.
The term “panic attack” is often used to describe a sudden, intense feeling of fear or apprehension that comes on without warning, and peaks within 10 minutes but can last up to 30 minutes at the most.
This is the most common type of panic disorder and it can be debilitating.
There are many different triggers that may cause someone to experience a panic attack.
It may include some or all of these symptoms:
– Palpitations, pounding heart or increased heart rate
– Sweating and excessively moist skin
– Trembling or shaking
– Hyperventilation which gives a feeling that you can’t breathe and nausea
– You may begin to feel lightheaded as if you’re about to pass out.
Fearful feelings such as fear of dying, losing control, going crazy, etc. may also accompany these physical sensations at the height of an attack.
Panic disorder sufferers will often experience anticipatory anxiety before they have any more actual episodes because they know what’s coming – this is called anticipatory worry (AW).
Symptoms of anxiety disorder include worry, distress and fear.
Anxiety is usually related to the anticipation of a stressful situation or event. It may come on gradually – but it can also be sudden.
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The lack of diagnostic recognition for these attacks means that signs and symptoms are open to interpretation: someone might describe having an “anxiety attack” with symptoms another has never experienced despite indicating they too have had “anxiety” problem from time-to-time in their life.
As well as being frightening for the person experiencing them, panic attacks can have an enormous impact on one’s work life, relationships with others and sense of self-worth.
The distinction between panic attacks disorder (PAD) and other anxiety disorders is that PAD features recurrent unexpected panic attacks not linked to any specific trigger – in contrast to persons who might experience panic episodes triggered by certain situations like social interactions or travel.
One in 75 people suffer from panic disorder, according to the American Psychological Association. It can severely affect quality of life but treatments are available and helpful for those with this mental illness.
People with panic disorder may experience one or more panic attacks, yet be otherwise perfectly happy and healthy. The symptoms may occur as part of another disorder such as a social phobia or depression.
Regardless of the cause, this is not something you have to live with forever!
Your symptoms can be reduced by following strategies like breathing exercises which will help take control back over your life that was so unfairly taken from you before.
You might think it’s just an illness – but in reality there are many causes for these panicked feelings; some even associated with other disorders!
You don’t need to let yourself sink into this feeling though- use methods like exercise, hypnosis, nlp, meditation and deep breathing techniques to reduce these awful sensations.
Panic disorder can run in families, but no one knows for sure why some family members have it while others don’t.
Researchers found that several parts of the brain, as well as biological processes play a key role in fear and anxiety.
Some researchers think people with panic disorders misinterpret harmless bodily sensations to be threats because they are not aware of what their bodies are doing – this is called somatic awareness or body consciousness. By learning more about how the brain functions we may also learn how better treatments can be made available.
Scientists hope that, by understanding these connections, treatment will become personalised rather than generalised.
This will lead to higher success rates among patients who receive tailored drug therapies based on individual needs instead of generics prescribed to all patients without considering an individual’s reaction patterns.
Even though there has been extensive research in the field causes of panic attacks and panic disorder are not known or fully understood, but these factors may play a part:
- Major stress
- Temperament that is more sensitive to stress or prone to negative emotions
- Certain changes in the way parts of your brain function
The cause of panic attacks (or panics) is unknown.
However there have been many theories suggested as to why this might occur.
One theory suggests that it has something to do with the fight or flight response in our brain which induces an adrenaline rush when you’re faced with danger (such as being chased by wild animals).
Another possible explanation for such occurrences is that some people who suffer from depression get terrible feelings at random times like intense sadness, hopelessness, helplessness – often leading them into believing they must be having a heart attack because symptoms match up so closely.
It’s so common to experience a panic attack that it may be easy for you to recognise the symptoms.
You’ll likely feel tired and worn out after your body has released adrenaline in an attempt of self-defense from what felt like imminent danger at first, but turned out not to have been dangerous at all!
Symptoms of panic attack are similar to those of chest pain and many times can be mistaken as such.
Panic Attack symptoms include:
- Chest discomfort, pressure or tightness that lasts more than 15 minutes, often accompanied by heart palpitations
- Burning sensation in the stomach
- Sweating and shaking chills
- A sense that you can’t breathe well enough – even though your breathing is normal
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid, pounding heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Feeling of unreality or detachment
One of the worst things about panic attacks is that you’re constantly fearing they’ll happen again. You may fear them happening so much that, in fact, it alters your life and it may cause you to avoid people or places where a panic attack might occur.
They typically last less than ten minutes but some people have experienced them lasting up to an hour. Some individuals may experience these episodes for days on end without anyone being able to pinpoint what triggered it in the first place. The frequency with which this occurs varies from person to person.
Having panic attacks can be a really terrifying, but fortunately they are not life-threatening.
The good news is that many people who experience one or two episodes of panic without further complications never have another attack and there is no need to worry if this sounds like you.
For some though, experiencing just one or two bouts with anxiety might lead them on to developing Panic Disorder.
This involves having repeated episodes of panic combined with major changes in behaviour as well as persistent worries about the next episode.
Some of the triggers of Panic Attacks can be:
- Major life stress, such as the death or serious illness of a loved one.
- Traumatic event like sexual assault or severe accident.
- Major changes in your life – like divorce or the birth of a baby
- Smoking or caffeine in excess
- History of child abuse
A panic attack may can be something that you never forget because of their intensity and terror.
They become a part of your life even if they only last for few minutes, causing lasting effects on self-esteem and everyday activities like school or work.
Eventually these could lead to symptoms such as avoiding crowded places, feeling unsafe during any type of situation where you don’t have a sense of control over what happens next or whenever you are outside your comfort zone.
It can also lead to experiencing elevated blood pressure when anticipating future events which are unavoidable in some way such as speaking at an event, interacting with people, being in open spaces, etc.
The key thing about panic attacks is how it impacts every day living from things we have no control over.
“The feeling came slowly, like a trickle of water that becomes a deluge. I was in the middle of an important meeting with my boss when it started to set in and things got really fuzzy. My jaw would shake uncontrollably and my whole body would tremble. I’d hyperventilate and cry with panic as the feeling that I was going to fall unconscious was so convincing.
It took what felt like countless hours before someone finally helped me calm down. Though many people had tried to tell me at various points, they didn’t know how to describe this particular feeling; most just said “You’re anxious” or “Hey, are you okay?” but no one knew what really happened. When I went to the doctor and explained all the details, he knew right away what happened.” This is the story of Jane… But it could as well be yours or anybody else who is suffering from panic attacks typically.
If this story sounds familiar, then you too, might have experienced a panic attack. They are startling, and can happen at any time.
Sometimes they occur during sleep or when you are in line at your local groceries store or while you are in the shower. No matter when it strikes, you are never expecting it.
Sometimes the fear is so intense that people believe they’re having a heart attack, dying, or going crazy – even though these things don’t make sense in light of what’s happening around them.
Most panic sufferers experience two to four symptoms out of the following:
- racing heartbeat
- shaking hands/trembling voice
- tightness in chest (like a heavy weight)
- pins and needles sensations
- fearful thoughts
- overwhelming feelings
- sense of terror, or impending doom or death
- feeling sweaty or having chills
- chest pains
- breathing difficulties
- feeling a loss of control
If you are experiencing symptoms of panic, it is important that you talk to your physician as soon as possible. Your doctor will perform an exam and ask about your health history for any possible physical problems.
If there doesn’t seem to be a medical issue then they may refer you over to mental healthcare specialist such as psychiatrist or psychologist who can provide treatment options like psychotherapy or medication depending on the situation.
A panic attack is a sudden, intense feeling of fear that can last up to 30 minutes. They are typically followed by at least one month or more of persistent worry about having another attack as well as dealing with the ongoing symptoms and worrying how they may interfere with your daily life.
People who have experienced a traumatic event sometime earlier in their life will be more likely to experience an episode than those without any exposure to trauma.
Here are Five Things you can do to counteract attacks and panic disorder:
1) Focus on taking deep breaths in and out through your mouth, feeling the air slowly fill your chest and belly and then slowly leave them again. Breathe in for a count of four, hold for a second, and then breathe out for a count of four:
2) Some panic attacks come from triggers that overwhelm you. If you’re in a fast-paced environment with a lot of stimuli, this can feed your panic attack.
To reduce the stimuli, close your eyes during your panic attack. This can block out any extra stimuli and make it easier to focus on your breathing.
3) Some people find it helpful to find a single object to focus all of their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible.
4) Some people find it helpful to find a single object to focus all of their attention on during a panic attack. Pick one object in clear sight and consciously note everything about it possible.
5) Mindfulness can help ground you in the reality of what’s around you. Since panic attacks can cause a feeling of detachment or separation from reality, this can combat your panic attack as it’s approaching or actually happening.
Bonus: Call a friend and ask for help and psychological support
Medical Advice and Professional Treatment for Attacks and Panic Disorder
ATTENTION: WE DO NOT offer medical advice. We are not doctors. Please consult your physician, mental health specialist or psychotherapist for specialised help!
Usual intervention and treatment include, but is not limited to, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, or medication.
In addition to CBT, doctors may recommend different types of medical prescriptions to treat panic disorder such as:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
SSRIs and SNRI are both used to treat depression, but they have the added benefit of helping with symptoms such as panic disorder. They will take a few weeks before showing any effects, though this can vary from person-to-person based on their personal case.
These medications may also cause side effects like headaches or nausea which should be monitored closely by your doctor so that it can be adjusted accordingly if necessary!
Beta-blockers can help control some of the common physical symptoms, such as rapid heart rate. Although doctors don’t commonly prescribe beta-blockers for depression and anxiety disorders, they may be helpful in certain situations before a full attack happens like when you feel your heartbeat racing or getting shortness of breath.
Benzodiazepines are sedative drugs that can help you get through really fast. They’ll stop the anxiety in its tracks, because of how strong their effect is against symptoms like racing heart or rapid breathing. But there’s something important your doctor should tell you about these meds: taking benzodiazepine doses continuously over time can make someone physically dependent on them. This means that you may need more and more of the drug just to feel normal without going into withdrawal.
Your medical doctor will work with you to find the best medication and dose for your personal needs.
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, try to reduce your work or take on less responsibilities.
For example, if you know that emergencies at work make you feel anxious then ask a co-worker to be prepared for emergencies.
If you have children or other family members who need help with their chores around the house then get your family to do it instead of hiring someone else. By doing this, you will care for pets yourself instead of hiring someone else.
Night time panic attacks – nocturnal panic attacks
Night time panic attacks are common, and it can be really difficult to know what causes them. Sometimes they can be the result of anxiety that’s been pent up during the day. Sometimes you’ll find out later on in life about something else like a trauma or PTSD.
But often times there is no clear answer as to why people experience this kind of attack at night-time only. We do know that your brain doesn’t stop working when you sleep so these emotions could manifest themselves into an involuntary reaction such as a panic attack while our conscious mind is not around!
The most important thing for someone who suffers from nighttime panics is figuring out WHY they happen in order to make progress towards getting better.
Research suggests that there are a number of factors that could increase the risk of someone suffering from night time panic attacks.
Factors that can Increase the risk for disorder panic
- A history or family members with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder
- Lack of or reduced assertiveness. A person who suffers from a panic attack may not be assertive enough in conversations and interactions with others. Some evidence supports the idea that people who suffer from these attacks have passive styles of communication or interactions with others
- drugs, medication or alcohol withdrawal
- side effects of different medical prescriptions
- Experiencing the loss of a close family member or friend, including bereavement, or breaking up
- Significant life changes such as losing a job, becoming a parent, and moving house
What you can do when you experience a nighttime panic attack
Waking up to a panic attack can be overwhelming and scary, especially if you’re still groggy from sleep. You might feel out of control when reality sets in, that this is happening to you for the first time- or maybe not so much if it’s happened before!
You might feel a little tense when you get ready for bed, but your brain doesn’t turn off while it’s asleep. That means that stress and anxiety can build up during the day before causing panic attacks at night, says Kevin Chapman PhD, who specializes in evidence-based treatment of symptoms such as this one.
“Don’t do anything that might be too stimulating. Stay away from your favorite tv show during this time.” Dr Clark says, “focus on engaging in activities that are calming and mild in nature.” Any habits like watching TV or using the computer are not going to help in a situation like this. But what does he mean by ‘calming’?
“Think about things that make you feel calm: taking a bath, reading a book with no interruptions…”
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s easy to try too hard and get stuck in the wrong mindset. Dr. Carbonell suggests that during panic attacks, do your best to not distract yourself from what is going on, by being observant of all sensations. This is very similar to mindfulness meditation, a practice in which you simply observe, without focusing on any attributes of the observed object or subject.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind if you happen to have a nighttime panic attack:
Dont Fight it – If you find yourself having a panic attack, don’t fight it. It’s better to let the feelings wash over you and resist the chance of making things worse than they are now by fighting against them. Think about how this just is temporary and will eventually fade away because that should help ease your worries in time
Relax – It can be tough to get back in a relaxed state after experiencing an intense situation. It’s important that you do your body good and start by taking deep breaths, inhaling for five seconds and then exhaling slowly over the next 10-15 seconds. Next try resting muscles with some light stretching while focusing on positive thoughts or pleasant memories.
Do Something – Panic attacks are no joke. If you’ve woken up from one, it’s important that once the attack subsides to do something relaxing to take your mind off things for a bit before going back to sleep or doing anything else stressful. Don’t just lie there and let thoughts of what caused this panic attack loop through your head- get up and move around! You’ll be less likely not only have another panic episode but also feel more rested when you wake up in the morning instead of feeling like garbage from tossing and turning all night long thinking about how scared you were last time.
What you can do when you experience anxiety and panic during the day?
Between 18 and 45% of people who have been diagnosed with panic disorder experience panic attacks during the day, at night, or both, most of the time. Most people who suffer from nighttime panic attack are also prone to daytime anxiety as well.
You can lower your anxiety level by practicing deep breathing exercises, which help to regulate your heart rate and lowers cortisol levels in the body (the hormone that has a negative effect on both mood and energy).
One of the best breathing exercises is called boxed breathing or for yoga aficionados, Samavriti Pranayama, its original name in Sanskrit.
It is widely used by special troops to help calm the nervous systems and its effects are extremely fast and profound.
The method is extremely easy. Simply set a time, let’s say 4 seconds, and breathe by observing the four seconds.
Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold for 4 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds. Hold for four seconds. Use the image bellow to guide yourself through this process.
We recommend using this method daily, for minimum of 5 minutes. If you can do ten minutes or more, it is even better.
This method can be practiced both as a prevention as well as a healing method.
What can you do when a child experiences anxiety and panic
First of all, don’t panic, as a parent!
Stay calm and talk to them in a gentle, soothing voice. Tell them that the panic will be over soon before taking deep breaths themselves and reassuring him or her that it’ll all be okay afterwards. Be sure not to touch their body too much until they’ve calmed down so as not to trigger another attack or to anchor/link their emotional state to the touch.
Talk to your child and guide their mind: “Hey, I know this is hard and feels overwhelming. But you’re not alone here! Take a deep breath with me? For now, we’ll just stay calm together. It’s ok to be scared or overwhelmed at first but the feeling will pass soon for sure so try your best to relax. Just take as much time as you need right now until that panic goes away…”
You know when your kid is having a panic attack? They’re probably thinking about the worst possible thing that could happen. But you can help them with this by reminding them of something else, like doing their favorite activity or listening to some music really loud!
You can bring them a favorite toy, a photograph of something enjoyable or even your pet. You could also help them to develop their own ‘happy place’ which they can go into whenever they feel panicky and want the anxiety to stop.
Encourage them if it brings comfort for them by thinking about situations in life that make you happy such as looking at pictures with family members or having one’s favorite animal nearby when things are tough.
Reassure your child that there are always people out there to help. It’s important for them to know they never have to suffer alone; someone will always be around and willing to listen, no matter what happens. Let the teachers at school know about any panic attacks so they can step in if it ever comes up again. Encourage your kid to not only speak with somebody when this starts happening, but also let them stay close by those who make them feel safe as well!
You should not let your fear of panic attacks control you, according to Professor Paul Salkovskis. He is the professor of clinical psychology and applied science at University of Bath in England. “It’s important that anyone with anxiety disorders know how their brain works so they can take steps to manage them better.”
“Panic attacks always pass and the symptoms are not a sign of anything harmful happening,” he says.
Panic attacks can be really hard to manage on your own, and they may get worse without treatment. If you experience panic attack symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pains or an intense feeling that something terrible is happening even though it’s not – go see a professional as soon as possible!
If you’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms, again, go and seek professional advice. Panic attacks can often resemble other serious health problems such as heart attack symptoms so just make an appointment with your primary care provider if this is the case and they’ll help point you in the right direction!
In some cases, medication can be a useful addition to behavioural treatment. But the majority of people with an anxiety disorder will respond well only if they receive both treatments.
Behavioural Treatment: Alone or in combination with medication is highly effective for most people who suffer from this condition.
The two most common ways to treat panic disorder are through counseling and through medicine. There are many different kinds of counseling and psychological help for this as well.
You can ask your doctor about what they offer or if there is one that might work better than the others based on whatever it was that caused the attack in the first place. It doesn’t always happen right away but over time, with both therapy and medication it seems like people do get more relief from their attacks which is great!
But these are not the only methods of intervention and treatment of panic attacks
1) Self-Hypnosis. One such method is to train in self-hypnosis techniques which can prevent the onset of a panic attack or have it end immediately
2) Another technique is called “thought stopping”, where one repeats phrases like “stop thinking right now” as soon as they experience a sense that something bad might happen. Whenever anxiety triggers an episode, just simply say these words and repeat them forcefully until the thoughts stop
3) Control your reactions. The most important way to control your reactions when you feel panicky is through exposure therapy. You expose yourself to whatever has caused your fear in small doses so that your body learns not to react with too much anxiety.
4) Meditation and contemplation. Meditation can lead to lower blood pressure, improved circulation, lower heart rate, slower breathing and a general feeling of well-being. It’s totally worth giving it a try!
5) Physical Activity. Physical activity can be a kind of meditation on its own. As you jog, walk or stretch your mind lets go of worries and focuses all attention to the repetitiveness in ground-touches with feet, arm swings back and forth when stretching or playing an exercise game; it will help for minds to reach simpler places where day-to-day stressors seem more trivial while also increasing pleasure from simple things like taking deep breaths.
6) Mental cleanup. You can practice visualizations or guided meditations wherein you enter your mental space and clean up your “mind and emotions of all the impurities, and negative thoughts and beliefs
7) Prayers. There are several studies showing that practice of prayers have profound results in cases of anxiety, panic and depression.
If you have any symptoms of panic attacks, seek medical help as soon as possible. Panic attack sufferers may feel like they’re in danger when the reality is that it’s just a temporary feeling and can be managed without treatment if caught early enough.
In general, people who are experiencing their first-time panic attack should avoid medications for anxiety or depression because those drugs might make things worse instead of better by increasing feelings of worry and insecurity.
Doctors recommend getting evaluated to determine what caused the issue before taking anything at all – even an over-the counter medication!
No one should have to suffer in silence. Some people are so afraid of having another panic attack that they don’t want to go near a doctor. But, if you get treatment early enough, your symptoms can be managed and life will seem much brighter than before!
Take care of yourself! It is important for both good mental health as well as physical wellbeing.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of panic disorder, don’t wait any longer!
With early intervention, it is possible for sufferers to find relief sooner so they can resume living their normal lives as soon as possible.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should immediately go and seek a doctor or psychotherapist:
You have a hard time, every single day.
Constant anxiety can really get to you. You may feel frequent nausea, diarrhoea, and pain. You could have trouble sleeping; be constantly irritable or even feeling your heart race when worrying about something which is only a thought–not an actual thing happening
or not dying for example! Sometimes people experience panic attacks that resemble the symptoms of having a heart attack: tight chest pains etc., so it’s important to know what they mean before assuming impending death at every turn
You have suicidal thoughts or ideation.
People with anxiety are also at risk of depression. When the severe form sets in, some people may even think about suicide. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, or if your level is high enough to warrant a higher priority call for emergency medical care should be taken by going straight to an ER and getting evaluated there. A mental health professional will help decide what’s best after they evaluate how much danger you’re in so it’s important not harm oneself when one thinks these thoughts as that could make things worse.
You start using or abusing alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.
It can be difficult to deal with constant anxiety and the fear of having another panic attack. Some people turn to recreational drugs or alcohol in order find relief, but that’s not a good idea because those substances make things worse – they create more anxiety, depression, and mental health issues. There are treatments available for managing your symptoms without turning into substance use.
If you’re feeling like anxious thoughts are constantly running through your head, then it’s time to take action, especially if they happen over the course of several months.
Here are five signs that should prompt you to seek help:
- Hard time focusing and concentrating
- Restlessness and agitation
- Irritability and grumpiness
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Muscle tension and contractions
Panic attacks are terrifying and can be debilitating. They happen when your body is flooded with adrenaline, which causes a feeling of terror that you cannot escape from. With the help of specialised intervention and treatment, panic attack sufferers may learn how to free themselves from this cycle by identifying their triggers and working through them in a safe environment with trained professionals.
If you are looking for more information about what it means to have a panic attack or want to know how hypnosis and NLP has helped others live without anxiety, reach out today!
We can work together on overcoming these fears so they don’t control your life anymore.